The Graveyard, 1869

The Graveyard — 1869

Penelope Worthington walked, solitary, up the windswept hill to take refuge under the spreading branches of a chestnut tree. She wore the dove grey of half-mourning, and carried a basket, from which she took out a warm woolen shawl. She spread the shawl carefully on the grass and sat down, arranging her full skirts just so. From the basket she took bread, cheese, an apple, and slices of cold turkey and ham, and arranged them just as carefully in front of her. Finally a glass and a small bottle of wine. She filled the glass, and admired the way the light shone through the ruby depths.

“It’s from your father, of course,” she remarked to her companion. “He’s been teaching me about wines.” She sipped. “Of course, he would tell me that red wine should be paired with beef or mutton, not chicken, but I think it will complement this cheese nicely.”

She gazed over the rolling hills as the breeze tugged tendrils from her carefully arranged hair, as a lover might. Her eyes held an old grief, faded with time and as comfortable as a favorite dress.

“I had a letter from Father yesterday. He wishes me to return to Hartford, to keep house for him, and perhaps look for a husband. I must consider carefully how to respond.”

The wind twisted the long grass into elflocks and Penelope took out a small folding knife and began peeling her apple, concentrating on cutting the peel into one long, unbroken ribbon.

“I won’t go, of course. I left Hartford for more than one reason, as you’ll recall. Father and his demands were among them. Besides, I cannot abide Hartford society.” She carved a slice of apple and ate it slowly.

“I spoke with your mother last week. The poor woman—she is so consumed with her rages that it quite gives me the headache to listen to her. Half the time I can’t help but think that she is pleased by her condition; to know that she is well and truly hard done by. It gives her a reason for her unhappiness, I suppose. Your father never pays her any mind. Even when she throws things at him he just pours himself another glass or locks himself away in his room.

A gust of wind lofted the first of the fall leaves from the ground briefly into the air, as if in a shrug.

“I agree, there is nothing to be done. Rebecca is concerned, though. She thinks it is not good for the children, growing up in such an atmosphere. I tell your mother that if she does not mend her ways, Rebecca will take the children straight to Vicksburg, and she’ll never see them again—that is, if Stephen’s business there prospers, which it looks likely to do.”

A cloud drifted over the sun, briefly casting a shadow over the hill.

“It is indeed a shame that your brother should go so far away from home—what a comfort it would be for Rebecca if he were here, she misses him so. A comfort for your mother too, I imagine. The children miss him—every day they ask when Stephen is coming home.

“He writes very often, and says he will bring back a fine pony for Jack. Jack is such an adventurous boy—he fell off the footbridge into the duck pond, ruining his Sunday clothes. He then declared to his mother that as long as God saw his soul were clean, it didn’t matter if there was a little mud on his clothes. The scamp quite makes me laugh, which is very hard when you know you must be stern with him.” The wind skirled the chestnut tree’s leaves, sending dapples of golden sunlight skittering over her hands and face. Penelope smiled merrily.

“I believe I shall write Father and tell him to go hang! I am quite too busy keeping house and managing servants for my father- and sister-in-law, not to mention my nephews and niece. We shall all do very nicely here together, especially once Stephen returns from the West. I, for one, find your father to be most congenial company, and I suppose your mother must forgive him eventually, no matter how badly he’s treated her. And as far as rejoining Hartford society and the marriage market—” Penelope leaned forward and patted the grass “—you are all the husband I want or shall ever need.”

Picnic finished, Penelope stood, gathered up her shawl, spilling the crumbs to the birds, and repacked her basket.

“I do enjoy talking with you, dearest. You always do know how to cheer my heart and make light of my troubles.” She began walking down the hill towards Straeon Manon.

Her companion silently watched her go. The marker read:

Here Lies
James Jonathan Worthington
Beloved Son
Loving Husband to Penelope
Rest In Peace

(In case you were wondering what happened between James’ mother and father.)

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